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Hulshof Chose Politics Over Baseball but Became a Star

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Then-Rep. Kenny Hulshof greets teammates before the start of the Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game in 2005.

The first time former Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.) stepped onto the field for a Congressional Baseball Game, there was no indication he would someday take his place in the institution’s Hall of Fame.

After all, he wasn’t carrying a bat or his mitt. In fact, in 1997, the then-freshman lawmaker hadn’t even joined the baseball team.

The Missourian was on hand to perform the pre-game national anthem, along with fellow Republican Reps. Mike Pappas (N.J.), Joe Pitts (Pa.) and now-Sen. John Thune (S.D.), who made up the Capitol Four quartet.

“We were invited to sing,” Hulshof, the newest inductee to Roll Call’s Baseball Hall of Fame, recalled in a recent phone interview from Columbia, Mo., “and to be honest, it’d been 20 years since I’d swung a baseball bat or put on a glove.”

Although he had once been a high school baseball star — who had drawn interest in 1976 from the Minnesota Twins, Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies, but disappointingly not his home state St. Louis Cardinals — Hulshof said he couldn’t picture himself returning to the field.

But as he watched from the stands at Prince George’s Stadium in Bowie, Md., he was inspired in particular by fellow freshman Rep. John Shimkus (Ill.), then the GOP’s catcher.

“I saw how intensely competitive the game is,” said Hulshof, who joined the team at first base the following year and went on to play for a decade until his retirement from the House at the end of the 110th Congress.

During his time as a Congressional ballplayer, Hulshof was twice honored as Most Valuable Player, in 2000 and 2006, and the Republicans dominated Democrats during the years he played with a 10-1 record.

“When you look at the list of those who are in the Congressional Baseball Hall of Fame, it’s a tremendous honor,” Hulshof said upon learning of his induction. “You always try to set yourself apart in the legislative arena and then to be nominated for athletics, especially to distinguish yourself in a game you love, it’s a great honor.”

The Missourian’s GOP teammates lauded Hulshof’s strong presence at first base, recalling his abilities to snap up any ball thrown in his direction.

“He was sort of like Lou Gehrig. He was always there, always ready,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (Texas), the team’s second baseman.

Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), the shortstop, echoed that sentiment: “About the only way you missed it was if you threw it over his head.”

“No one brought more intensity to the game than Kenny,” he added.

Hulshof fondly recalled the occasional misfires, teasing that his teammates would “throw high, they’d throw low, to make me look good.”

“I’ve often told those guys that I should be wearing hockey goalie attire,” he added with a chuckle.

But Hulshof departed from his good- natured ribbing to praise his teammates, particularly the GOP’s infield lineup, including Brady and Wamp, as well as Sen. John Ensign (Nev.) and then-Rep. Chip Pickering (Miss.).

“That was pretty special to have that infield for 10 years,” Hulshof said.

The Missourian also made his mark as a batter, retiring with a .444 batting average in 27 at bats.

When Hulshof picked up his first MVP honors in 2000, he was tapped not only for digging out several tough throws at first base, but for two hits, including an RBI triple.

In 2006, Hulshof again walked away with the MVP title, not only for his fielding but in large part for an RBI double that sparked the GOP to a 12-1 victory.

Among his personal highlights, Hulshof recalled the 2003 game attended by former St. Louis Cardinal and Baseball Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.

Smith, who had thrown out the game’s ceremonial first pitch, was sitting in the GOP’s dugout when Brady and Rep. Tim Holden (Pa.), the Democrats’ catcher, collided at home plate in the opening inning. Brady forced Holden to drop the ball but also dislocated his left shoulder in the crash.

“I remember Ozzie Smith shaking his head, he was in our dugout, and saying, ‘Man you guys are way too serious,’” Hulshof said.

But it was that same focus, in part, that led Hulshof away from baseball many decades ago, after spending his youth playing first base.

“I had a chance to play ball at a small college, but then I also had a full academic scholarship at the University of Missouri here in Columbia,” said Hulshof, who also recalled “some nibbles” from scouts for major league baseball.

“Dad and I had one of those father and son talks where dad does all the talking and the son does all the listening.” Hulshof said, recalling that his father, who had flirted with the minor leagues himself, advised him to follow his heart, while reminding him he had a “full academic scholarship to a great school.”

“I recognized the wisdom my dad was imparting,” Hulshof said. “I hung up the spikes and focused on my academic pursuits. ... It definitely was one of those times when you have to make a decision as far as your career path goes, and so I did.”

Hulshof became a lawyer, serving as both a public defender and a special prosecutor for the Missouri attorney general’s office before being elected to the House.

He now lives in Missouri and works for the law firm Polsinelli Shughart, splitting his time between his home state and Washington, D.C.

“That’s why getting to play in the Congressional Baseball Game over all these years has been so fulfilling,” he said.

“When you get a chance to walk out in this cathedral-like setting of this major league baseball stadium ... and at least for a day you’re a major-leaguer. I’ve had a chance to live out that dream, albeit in a compressed period of time.”

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